Words by Ed King / Promo pic by Matt Crokett, production pics courtesy of the Hippodrome
The Full Monty – an expression born from a Field Marshal’s penchant for a hearty English breakfast, but one that has come to signify ‘the works’. To leave nothing out; to include everything. To bare all. But etymology be damned, the Hippodrome’s audience tonight have come for a show. And flesh. Make no mistake about that.
Simon Beaufoy’s screen play was the ‘sleeper hit’ of 1997, directed by Peter Cattaneo, balancing the depression of a disenfranchised unemployed – in this case those left to rot after the closure of the Sheffield steel mills – with the repressed comedy of proud alpha males subjugating themselves for cash. Cue the probing eye of defensive superiority, comradeship, the class stratification table, feminism by proxy, male pride, and the shadows of Thatcher’s Britain. Or what’s left of it. Or what’s left of any of them. But the film’s narrative struck such a successful balance that it made Beaufoy’s script a silver screen smash. A £200million smash. And that’s hard to ignore.
The inevitable stage show was, well, inevitable. But The Full Monty, despite being an on paper paint by numbers success, has not had the easiest time on stage – with the 2013/14 production pulled by its producers, and the current 2018/19 billed as its last. Seems an odd way to milk a potential cash cow, but I’m far from being Cameron Mackintosh.
We open with a spot lit TV playing appraisals about the ‘jobs for life’ offered by Sheffield’s steel mills, an economy we now know proved to be false. The stage is set as per the inside of the now derelict steel mill where our male protagonists used to work, from crane operator to canteen staff, and continues with this backdrop until the final razzle dazzle.
Our introduction is a comedy of errors, as our central character Gaz (Gary Lucy) and the man behind the male striptease idea, is joined by Dave (Kai Owen) his jokingly henpecked best friend, as the pair try to steal some steel from their previous place of employment. Gaz’s son, Nathan, is along for the ride – bringing in an important, but somewhat under developed, subplot of parental responsibility.
The northern accents are a little think and the script a little thin, as we are reminded of the desperate times that were left in the wake of the steel mill closures of the 1980’s. For what it is, it’s delivered well – with confident performances from all characters and ages. And somebody somewhere really wants this to be ‘authentic’.
But the promise of gritty social commentary meets the humour of human endeavor, wrapped up in the comradeship of combined struggle, falls a little short. The odd scene under a neon signed ‘Job Club’ doesn’t sum up the communities ripped apart by Sir Ian MacGregor’s scythe wielding approach to the steel industry, and nor should it. Likewise, when the troubled Lomper (Joe Gill) sees his only option hanging at the end of a rope we get a well delivered run down of alternatives from Dave and Gaz – “have you thought about shooting yourself in the head?” – in a scene that makes me laugh out loud, but perhaps a little too much.
The rest of the first half moves through the plot points of a script that arguably relies on its audience already knowing its outcome, drip feeding both the idea of male stripping as a source of quick cash and the men who eventually disrobe for the grand finale – each replete with nickname, back story, and for want of a better expression their unique selling point.
There are with some noticeable steps up on stage once Gerald (Andrew Dunn) and Horse (Louis Emerick) get their teeth sunk in, and as the ensemble grows so does the camaraderie between the cast. But whilst each actor is confident throughout, and increasingly believable, the script jumps from serious to silly without allowing either side to fully breathe.
Shock value is a heavy attribute too, as women wee standing up and a pantomime penis brings the interval curtain down, leaving the midway audience engaged but unchallenged. The Full Monty brochure has a double page spread on ‘The Changing Landscape – a time line of British politics’, alongside a repeated ‘back to its Sheffield roots’ mantra from the promotional rhetoric, but not too much would have been lost so far if the story was still set in Buffalo.
The second act opens with the fledgling troupe rehearing their dancing, from the fumbling first attempts to the simple stripteases that sees each actor undress. Wolf whistles and cat calls surround our poster boys in the buff, but soon enough the audience is whooping at every man on stage.
It is here that the magic of this show, the latest run of a production that has danced these steps a few times before, begins to work itself through the theatre. We care. And not just about the nakedness of the men on stage, but for the vulnerability and fight that they begin to represent. The audience ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and Gaz explains the love for his son, we applaud and laugh as Guy and Lomper address their sexuality, and we stand silent in solidarity as Dave confesses his body dysmorphia.
As we rush to the final curtain, both ours and theirs, there is – to end on an adage – a lot of love in the room. This is down to the actors, who could have been given about 20mins more dialogue to help them shape their characters but who play their cards with increasing aplomb.
And by the time we are finally given The Full Monty, the applause comes from an honest desire to see everyone on stage succeed as opposed to what’s under their hat. Birmingham’s opening night closes to a well deserved standing ovation, for a production I suspect will get better and better on as it’s final run progresses. It’s just a shame it will eventually close for good. But as the play’s premise declares many things have to, or are forced to, and who knows what we’ll see next from this very capable cast.
The Full Monty – 2018/19 UK production
The Full Monty runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome from until Saturday 10th November, For direct show information, including venue details and full online ticket sales, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/the-full-monty-2018
For more on The Full Monty 2018/19 UK production, visit www.fullmontytheplay.com
For more from the Birmingham Hippodrome, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com
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